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U.S. infant death rate down 12% since 2005

The number of U.S. children who died within a year of birth in 2011 declined 12 percent from 2005, as fewer babies are being born prematurely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.

Six in 1,000 children died within their first year in 2011, compared with 6.9 per 1,000 in 2005, the Atlanta-based CDC reports.

The number of children who die in their first year is often used as an indicator of health in a country. In 2008, the United States was ranked 27th globally by the Organization for Economic Cooperative Development.

"We should feel pretty proud about this, because it takes a lot to change population statistics," said Carol Miller, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "We've been struggling with this issue for quite some time." She wasn't involved in the report.

The highest estimated rate of infant mortality in 2012 worldwide was in Afghanistan, at 121 per 1,000 births; the lowest was Monaco, 1.8, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. It estimates that 6 children per 1,000 live births died in the United States last year, a higher rate than for Canada or Britain.

The leading cause of U.S. infant death was birth defects, followed by premature birth. Those health issues, along with sudden infant death syndrome, maternal complications and unintentional injuries accounted for more than half of 2011 deaths.

"We've seen a recent decline in preterm births, which is good because babies who are born too soon have much higher infant mortality rates," said Marian MacDorman, of the National Center for Health Statistics, an author of the study. "One thing we think helped the preterm birth situation was trying to prevent medical interventions ."

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